Feature films are largely considered a director’s medium, while television tends to be all about the writer. With a few notable exceptions (James Burrows, Tommy Schlamme), television directors are mostly interchangeable, and tend to come and go from series to series without having any lasting effect on the quality or tone of the show.
Which is why, when you get a gifted feature film director like Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) behind the camera of a television series, as in the pilot of the new Fox drama New Amsterdam, the difference is truly striking. Unfortunately, without an equivalently smart script, it’s still not a particularly great show.
This is not to say New Amsterdam is bad. It’s just… extremely familiar. It’s a police procedural about an eccentric cop, sort of like NBC’s far superior Life. Or TBS’s The Closer and Saving Grace. It’s also a supernatural drama about an immortal man searching for meaning in his preternaturally long life, sort of like Joss Whedon’s Angel. Or CBS’s inferior Moonlight. Or Highlander, the franchise that’s pretty much synonymous with the word immortal. In other words, this is all territory that’s been covered before.
And, at least in the pilot–penned by Christian Taylor (Lost, Six Feet Under)–the script does little elevate the material. The murder of the week is predictable and the clues that allow our immortal homicide detective to nail the culprit are downright preposterous. Worse, the dialogue tends to the uninspired, relying heavily on wry quips that aren’t quite as clever as they’re meant to be.
The good news is that the series has a strong cast that will probably continue to shine even without Hallström’s artfully guiding hand behind the camera. Danish thespian Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is likable, appropriately handsome, and infuses John Amsterdam (the immortal in question) with exactly the kind of quiet yearning that’s bound to send some female viewers into a tizzy. Which is, ultimately, what New Amsterdam is aiming for.
At its heart, the series is simply a romantic thriller in the tradition of Nora Roberts and Sandra Brown novels. You see, John Amsterdam has been gifted (or cursed–you decide) with immortality until he finds his soul mate. That’s right, this guy has lived for hundred of years and never found “the one.” And the crimes he solves every week serve as a thematic reminder of the passion he has yet to find in his own life.
Right now, some of you are probably rolling your eyes, while others are sighing dreamily. Those in the former group should feel free to skip New Amsterdam, content in the knowledge that you’re not missing anything you’d want to see. But those in the latter group might just find that it’s not a bad way to spend an hour.
I’ll let ya’ll guess which group I’m in.